So I’m now on to one of the highest chocolate makers in the world – not only in terms of quality, but also in altitude. They are, of course, located at 4,441 feet above sea level in Salt Lake City which I’m told that this adds to the flavour. I’m not sure how true it is, but I’ll take their word for it. What I do love about Amano, other than the chocolate and brand, is that they’ve got “balls”. The honesty on their FAQ page is welcoming and serves as a good introduction to the chocolate and ethics even before you unwrap it.
And just like the Mast Brothers, they have their own way of doing things. Art Pollard – the owner of Amano actually designed and built the winnower that they use to separate the germ from the husk of the bean whilst they’ve also modified their other machinery to work just how they like it. It’s this sort of rolling the sleeves up and tweaking the methods of production that I love. Chocolate at this end of the scale should be constantly honed to improve product quality. At the other end of the scale, it’s honed to reduce cost.
When I saw the boxes of these Amano bars in Fortnum & Mason they were located in a chilled cabinet at 16.2°C which was the perfect way to keep them given the intense heat outside. At that point I was in heaven: stood opposite the selection of fine chocolate and feeling cool. All I needed was a neck massage and refreshing glass of wine. In fact, it reminded me of walking past the jewellers in the adjoining streets looking at the very expensive diamond rings which were worth more than my house – they can keep the bling, I’ll have this cocoa heaven – and I did. I came out with three bars. This Ocumare 70%, a 30% version and another 30% of Jembrana. Unfortunately they didn’t have any of the Madagascar, Guayas, Dos Rios, Montanya or Cuyagua dark chocolate bars – which bought on a feeling of melancholy. My bank manager was pleased, however, as they were £10 each. Which is a hefty mark up from the $6.95 you can buy direct for – if you could get UK delivery.
Looking at them, there seemed to be an ancient Rome appearance to the packaging. The golden embossing and overall design indicated the quality of the bars and set them apart from the Domori (which does have an OTT gold design), the Pralus and their own “house” bars. Looking at the selection I was never going to buy any other brand.
The cacao beans used to make this bar grown in the valley where the town of Ocumare de la Costa which is located in Venezuela. Anyone that has tried a variety of different dark chocolate will know that Venezuela is responsible for some of the finest cacao in the world and is highly sort-after and as such is the main ingredient in making this such a fine bar of dark chocolate – other than skill and expertise.
Moving on to the important characteristics. The aroma has a sharp acidic complexion and red wine notes that reminded me of Bulls Blood Red Wine my father used to serve when I was a teenager with a Sunday Roast. I nibbled some last night and when I took the dog for a walk this morning I walked past a shrub with small white flowers that had the exact same floral notes. It was uncanny. It just seems to be a kaleidoscope of aromas: balsamic vinegar, roast beef, red wine with a floral edge that could even be honeysuckle on reflection. Often you’ll get two-dimensional aromas with single origin chocolate, but with this bar there’s just so much going on.
The snap was echoey. It was solid, substantial, just like the finest car that money could buy. In fact the snap was almost deafening. And the crystals as tight as you could want and all uniformly aligned as the geology on the Jurassic coast.
When actually trying the flavour it was a sort of sushi experience. Small nibbles packed full of flavour. Other chocolate I’ve reviewed seem to occupy every crevice of your mouth, but this one seemed to offer solitary fireworks of flavour – but exceptionally pretty ones at that. What you won’t appreciate at first is the intensity of the flavour. It seems to get stronger and stronger as the melt continues. And it lasts for a good while.
The acidity isn’t as pronounced as with aroma, here you’ll have an incredible riotous bouquet of flavours splashing everywhere. I doubt I’ve tasted a more orally aromatic bar of dark chocolate in my life. Five or ten minutes later you’ll still be able to pick up the flavours in your mouth. Here they’ll change into a sort of orange blossom character that just doesn’t want to go.
What you may find is that as you try more of the bar is the flavours get mellower and more expansive. The acidity recedes and creaminess comes out. It becomes rounded and more sensual. Satin sheets and lost inhibitions come to mind.
The understated excellence of this bar is what makes it so exciting. Many bars of dark chocolate are good, a few are excellent, but once in a while you’ll find some that changes the whole cocoa paradigm. All other bars I review from now on will be compared to this, consciously or unconsciously, fair or not. But that’s what this pursuit for chocolate excellence is all about. Today, I’m once step closer to chocolate heaven.